Fee Fi Foe Film: Cincinnati Offense

Submitted by Seth on September 6th, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Austin Peay did not win a game in 2016. They did not win a game in 2015 either. Nor did they win a game in 2013. In fact in their last 47 tries their lone victory was October 18, 2014, versus Murray State. Remember when Michigan planted a railroad spike in East Lansing, then Brady Hoke apologized? That is more recent than Austin Peay winning a football game. The closest they’ve come since: last Saturday at Cincinnati.

Michigan’s next opponent was outgained 313 (Detroit!) to 248 (Cranbrook!), and needed a big fourth quarter touchdown drive and two end-of-half turnovers near their goal line to kick off the Luke Fickell era with a victory over literally the worst team in the most charitable definition of Division I. The same Governors (FYI: Austin Peay are the Governors), who gave up an average of 46 points vs FCS schools last year were able to hold the Cincinnati attack to 3.3 YPC, 5.4 YPA, and 3/11 on first downs.

Yeah, football results are not always transitive. But this might be:

if this is accurate there are only five unblocked defenders around

I find beauty in atrocious football. It’s yet to be seen if we can find much of use. Welcome back to foe film.

Personnel. My diagram [click to embiggen]:


Oreo offense: hard cookie outside with a soft, gooey center.

There wasn’t that much I could glean from watching them play Peay. The offensive line returned one starter and the new kids got zero push against Peay’s DL. The right tackle, a JUCO transfer, is large but really stiff and a complete turnstile against the pass rush. The center got overpowered on the regular but seemed to know what he was doing. Both guards had trouble in all departments, getting little to no push, blowing zone combos, and occasionally providing entertainment of the “'I’m glad it’s not our guys” variety. For example try to guess who the pulling guard, #64, will block on this play.


If you went with “unblocked guy right in front of him,” you lose. The other LB near the tight end? Wrong. That cornerback? Nope. “Nobody?” You’re giving him too much credit.


Fortunately it’s not an illegal block in the back if it’s your own tight end so this was just a tackle for no gain.

[After THE JUMP this is some bad football right here]

Speaking of that tight end, he was pretty good. Competition level claxons here but several times Cogswell opened space for the running game by blowing a DE off the line. He also routed himself into Cincy’s sealing TD.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? All spread.


OC Mike Denbrook was Brian Kelly’s WRs coach and passing coordinator at Notre Dame and brought along an extreme version of the Tiller-at-Purdue spread-to-dink offense. Formations were 80% shotgun and the rest Pistol. Occasionally a second tight end lined up to balance the formation. More often they went empty 5-wide. Play-action usually meant WR screen.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? They’re mostly inside zone. On the few occasions they did pull someone, the results were comical (see above).

Hurry it up or grind it out? Hurry-up. Usually they were lined up with 21-24 seconds on the clock, and could get the ball snapped with 30 when they really tried.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Hayden Moore emerged last year from a QB competition that went late into the season. He’s not a statue, but when he moves he’s big and crafty, but not especially fast. I give him a 5.

Dangerman: The book on Cincy in the preseason is that they have good receivers. That bore out on film against Peay’s overmatched DBs, though I wasn’t blown away by any of those guys. Devin Gray (860 yards, five TDs, 14.8 YPC last year) and Khalil Lewis (605 yards, five TDs, 12.6 YPC) are rumored dangerous downfield threats, though they never tested Peay deep in this game. True sophomore Thomas Geddis is more receiver-sized and has been more productive than the other two in Cincy’s last two games. All three ran good short routes proved adept at coming back to open ground when a few seconds didn’t get the ball out. They’re all atrocious blockers. Michigan’s cornerback trio are going to feature strongly in this one.

The offensive line makes him largely irrelevant but senior running back Mike Boone is a bona fide guy who shows flashes of dude:

I don’t want to take Peay’s awful safeties seriously enough to grant a star. He also fumbled twice and had a couple more where the ground was enough to jar it loose.

Zook factor: Fickell punted on 4th and 3 from the Cincy 49 up one score in the 3rd quarter. Then again his quarterback had just put one in the chest of an Austin Peay cornerback so maybe that was the right call.

Hennechart: One reason they probably stuck to short stuff is Moore has a popgun arm. He floated quite a few of these and before his running game got going he was missing badly.

Austin Peay 1 11(3) 5 4x(1) 2x 4 - - 1 58.9%

That’s somewhere between Akron QB and Sheridan heroic. Most of the IN’s and MA’s came early. His three touchdowns weren’t hard throws but none made those receivers’ jobs difficult. Lewis dropped one in his breadbasket that would have made it a 4th touchdown*

The lack of “Pressure” was all on the offense design. The OTs let ends rush as upfield as they liked and the ball got out immediately.

*[Cincy ended up missing the FG attempt from point blank range.]


There once were glorious days when Cincinnati was the last stop on the road from coach in the state of Michigan to a consularship, when Dantonio, Kelly, and Butch Jones roamed the sidelines, playing up Graduate Success Rates as academics and knocking on the doors of Power 5 conferences. Those guys are all gone now. Tommy Tuberville rode out Butch Jones recruits while treating the job as a well-earned semi-retirement. The cupboards he left had some dusty receivers and little else.

Enter Luke Fickell, who’d done his duty as bridge/body-burier in the graceful Tressel-to-Meyer transition. Fickell in turn brought in Denbrock, who’d been with Brian Kelly back in the Grand Valley State days and reunited with his mentor in South Bend in 2010. His signature addition to the spread era is the Flex Tight End—Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph being his most famous charges.

This is an interesting match with Tuberville remains. The Bearcats’ offensive line couldn’t block Austin Peay, and I didn’t see any sign that Moore’s got more than a serviceable arm, nor that there’s any chance of a running game getting established enough to run more than play-action tunnel screens (try those they totally work!). Cincy’s 2016 game versus Purdue last year was helpful both in getting us some images for HTTV and for a direct comparison between Hayden Moore and David Blough:

They didn’t run zone reads or RPOs with him despite having the offense for it. Taking off is usually his second read. This two-play vignette will help you download Moore:

If it works, try it again.

As I mentioned above, it’s as dedicated to the spread as anyone, and not great at hiding its intentions:

Formation Pass Run PA
Gun 24 12 8
Pistol   - 10 1

Most of the play-action was screens. Most of the pistol was in the red zone or obvious rushing downs. Most of the passes that weren’t screens or RB swings were quick outs.

Down Pass Run PA
1st 7 13 5
2nd 7 8 3
3rd/2PA 11 1

The first called running play was at 1:41 in the 1st quarter, the first play of Cincy’s 3rd drive. Seven of those pistol runs were on the last drive with Cincy up a score and killing clock. This was correct as their running game was averaging under 1 YPC against the worst FCS team ever until the Peay DEs were selling out on the pass so much they’d rush themselves out of their lanes.

When a team plays like this it’s usually to mitigate a bad offensive line, and that showed even against that competition. The spread creates space for simple reads, and the ball gets out of the backfield before the pass rush has any chance of arriving. This sacrifices the running game and deep passing, but if you haven’t sniffed a four-star in a decade you’re probably better off putting the all of your eggs in the one basket that won’t fall apart under a stiff breeze. Peay’s response was to play cautiously in the middle, send their DEs hard upfield to put a time limit on Moore, then sit back in a Cover 2 and bend-don’t-break. Something tells me Michigan plans to be more aggressive.

Given Don Brown’s empathy for bad running games and the vast disparity between Cincy’s receivers and their OL, I wouldn’t expect runs to be much more than a sideshow of draws. Fickell will try his guys in space against Michigan’s young corners and eschew the rest. As dodgy as the Wolverines’ sophomores might seem in comparison to Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, Hill and Long aren’t Austin Peay corners either. First one to pick six gets the winning points.



September 6th, 2017 at 5:19 PM ^

My understanding of this FFFF is that going into the season the OL wasn't trusted to hold their own against a winless FCS team (!!!), hence the "spread-to-dink".  In principle, ball's out before any mortal can traverse 10 yards (though Rashan Gary might test that theory).  It completely neutralizes the pass rush. . . at the expense of literally everything else.  Dat coach may know it's hopeless, but at least he ain't stupid to get the QB killed.

So, sacks may be the one thing we don't get, but depending on how this breaks we might go through their student body walk-on WRs by halftime if they keep throwing screens (given our nose tackle was blowing them up against Florida), or our corners might re-write the NCAA single-game interception records.  Dunno, this is a situation all like, "Donzer the Brownzerian, Donzer the Destructor, Dongus Browndrohar, the Mustache has come!  Choose and perish!"

MI Expat NY

September 6th, 2017 at 5:34 PM ^

On the other hand, based on the screen shot and the couple clips, it doesn't appear that Austin Peay was playing particularly tight coverage at the line of scrimmage (or playing it very poorly at the goalline).  We could decide to take away the dink and dunk figuring we'll get to the QB often enough to prevent any big plays.  You can only be so effective at preventing QB pressure through quick passes alone without clear physical superiority in the QB/WR department.


September 6th, 2017 at 4:26 PM ^

Fickell in turn brought in Denbrock, who’d been with Chip Kelly back in the Grand Valley State days and reunited with his mentor in South Bend in 2010.

Should be Brian Kelly, not Chip. 

Oh, and godspeed to the Cincy OL and QB. Going to be a long afternoon for them. 


September 6th, 2017 at 6:13 PM ^

If a 235 pound linebacker leaves his stance 6 yards from the line of scrimmage and accelerates at a rate of 3.8 mps2 with a max velocity of 5.1 mps, and a 222-pound running back starts from 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage, acclerating to the hole at a rate of 2.4 mps2 with a maximum velocity of 5.2 mps, how much does it suck to be that running back?

a. so much
b. oh god i feel bad for him
c. why are you running the ball against a Don Brown defense anyway?
d. all of the above.


September 6th, 2017 at 9:10 PM ^

it looks like he went to block the guy that was unblocked, but the TE disengaged with the guy he was blocking to move over to the guy he should have known the guard would block.

No less terrible from a team perspective that they have two guys blocking one guy with an unblocked defender right next to them, but I think that's all on the TE, right?

Ron Utah

September 6th, 2017 at 4:32 PM ^

If those "Trouble Spots" are accurate, nothing else matters.  Moore's backups had better be ready and hearty.  This Michigan DL is going to destroy them.

Hugh White

September 6th, 2017 at 4:34 PM ^

In your description of glory days gone past, you forgot to mention that John Harbaugh was an assistant coach at Cincy (which featured a blocky-catchy-guy centric offense at the time).  


September 6th, 2017 at 4:47 PM ^

Anyone have a link to their full game? I also find beauty in attrocious football.

If these guys get past mid-field with the starters in, I'll be disappointed.


September 6th, 2017 at 4:56 PM ^

I'm thinking back to last year's Rutgers game, where I don't think Rutgers got a first down until the 4th quarter.  This game might be the same -- 3-and-out, their punter is their most active player, and Michigan's punt return guys get a lot of reps.

Oh ... and Michigan's kickoff guy?  Loosen up.  You're going to be busy too.

kevin holt

September 6th, 2017 at 4:56 PM ^

Not sure how to phrase this but I just realized the "foe" in "foe film" is part of the description of the content. For all this time I've just thought "film" was the relevant part of the title and "fee fi foe" was the jokey part. That's pretty great.